Lessons from the Nest – The Skunk and the Hero

This is a tale of mystery and surprise and a stink that could cause your nose to vacate your face. This tale begins with Charlotte, the female terrier, and an unidentified assailant we shall call Skunk.

It was a typical Monday evening of geometry homework and basketball practice and trips to the middle school gym for yet another sporting event. The only one currently earning a paycheck was busy with a new project and spent a few hours bathed in the glow of a laptop, while I happily folded more origami cranes and reflected on the day’s volunteer work. All was well.

Our story takes a calamitous turn at approximately 9:23pm when the family terriers return from their final bathroom and property patrol of the day. From the other room, I hear gasps and then choking sounds. Rounding the corner, I am blasted by a caustic odor combination of burnt tires and gasoline. The air is unbreathable.

Charlotte is busily rubbing her face into my favorite rug, while her older brother and would-be protector looks on. As the obvious source of the stench, she is quickly shooed back outside to the scene of the crime. The evidence would later reveal that all porch lights had been off and complete darkness was a potential contributing factor. Witnesses report hearing frantic barking from the big brother dog but nothing from the female. The unknown assailant was quickly identified as a skunk solely from its calling-card spray, which had landed squarely on the right side of the younger terrier’s face. The motive of the would-be protector’s barking could not be determined. Was it a response to the initial surprise encounter with this trespassing skunk or was it an alert to the humans of the attack – which bark came first, the skunk or the rotten-egg?

However dear reader, this is not an ordinary tale of animal encounters. It is the tale of a hero. A hero whose evening of working on branding and pitches was thrown out the window by ruined carpet, stinking fur, and a wife that was screaming in gasping breaths that we were all going to a hotel.

Did I also mention the unbearable stench?

Like other great heroes who run into burning buildings or confront evildoers, our hero goes toward the awful, rotten smell. Specifically the petrified, shaking dog, Charlotte.

With the speed of a superhero, an Internet search reveals the brand of kryptonite needed and supplies are purchased to right this wrong. Still too lethal to breach the walls of the house, the initial rounds of vinegar and baking soda are administered with the help of a garden hose; a hose lacking a hot water supply. Man and dog shiver and shake but progress is made.

Hours later, after rounds and rounds of lather, rinse, and repeat, our hero places the little terrier into her dog bed. Bowls of vinegar are distributed to each room with optimistic promises that daybreak will bring breathable air. Children tuck towels under their bedroom doors in hopes that friends at school won’t accuse them of hanging out at a tire burning the night before. The exhausted hero collapses into bed and fitfully sleeps, checking on the condition of the now quite fluffy victim several times before the alarm sounds.

Like all good hero stories, there are many lessons to be learned… surprises in the dark can be good but sometimes very bad, sometimes safety in numbers doesn’t apply, vinegar truly is a miracle worker, or never place your favorite rug by the back door. Many lessons can be pulled from this story but for me there was one that I relayed to each child (as I cowardly waited in their rooms for the site to be deemed safe).

Dear kiddos, always remember: in any relationship, in any story, there are roles that we all play. Sometimes the narrator calls for you to be the hero. Sometimes you will save the day but sometimes you don’t have the strength. Sometimes you want to retreat to a nice hotel. Always make sure in your comic book of life you are surrounded by plenty of would-be heroes.

And be VERY GRATEFUL when that hero saves the evening.

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